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Moana is a wonderful film: Beautifully and richly animated with strong, heartfelt characters, an engaging story, toe-tapping songs and great humor.

Directed by legendary Disney artists John Musker and Ron Clements ( of The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, The Princess and the Frog, and Treasure Planet fame), the film is about a Polynesian girl named Moana who has loved the ocean all her life and wants to go beyond her island home to explore it, but cannot due to her father's insistence that they have everything they need on the island and her time is better suited to leading their tribe. When their source of food starts to die off however, Moana must venture out and find the demigod Maui and return a magical stone he has stolen, to make things right again.

The film has a very strong cast led by newcomer Auli'i Cravalho, a wonderful actress and beautiful singer, as Moana and Dwayne Johnson as Maui, who has a lot of funny quips and one-liners, as well as a magical tattoo (that kept reminding me of the Genie from Aladdin for some reason).

The story and animation blend together wonderfully, exploring the theme of finding one's identity and true calling in life and really opening up the scope and majesty of the epic world it inhabits, which is the culture and mythology of Polynesia (bringing back happy memories of my visits to the Polynesian Cultural Center in Oahu. If you haven't gone, I highly recommend it!). The film somehow even manages to subvert the cliches of Disney formula like joking that Moana isn't technically a princess since she's the daughter of a chief or glossing over the fact that "she is the chosen one", which is actually really refreshing. It also takes its time at telling the story, dedicating at least half an hour or so to setting everything up, but it really pays off, leaving me very satisfied emotionally.

While not as catchy as "Try Everything" from Zootopia or ear worm, can't get it out of your head inducing as "Let it Go" from Frozen, all the songs in Moana are still very strong, heartfelt and memorable, especially "How Far I'll Go" and "We Know The Way", which I've found myself listening to several times after having seen the movie (and plan to listen to listen to several more times in the following weeks).

I really have nothing negative to say about the film other than extreme nitpicks that I could easily overlook with a second viewing, although I could see these being problems for other people, like why, except for comedy relief and one brief moment during the climax, was Moana's animal sidekick a really dumb chicken? It had no significance to the plot. Other nitpicks include some of the jokes involving Maui being a little too meta, like an eye roll inducing in-joke to Twitter, a cliche that took away from Maui's arc a little bit, and least of all, some of the transitions into songs were a bit sudden.

But like I mentioned above, those negatives are extreme nitpicks that do very little if anything at all to deter the so many great positive elements of the film overall.

I definitely say see it! Disney has done it again!

4.5 Stars out of 5


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